As Omicron variant spreads across the world, India's third dose policy may become reality in 14 days

India has so far not reported a case of the new COVID-19 variant, which was first detected in South Africa's Botswana on 11 November 11

FP Staff December 01, 2021 11:12:15 IST

With the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreading fast and wide, India’s comprehensive policy on additional and booster doses will be made public in the next two weeks by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) of India, said Dr N K Arora, India’s COVID-19 task force head.

His statement assumes great significance as other countries, such as United Kingdom and the United States, have already started administering booster shots. It also assumes importance as the world scrambles to contain the Omicron threat, which was first detected in Botswana and quickly spread like wildfire to other nations.

As the issue gains ground, take a look at where we are on the issue of booster shots, and will they help against this ‘variant of concern’.

Dr NK Arora speaks

As of today, India has administered 1,24,10,86,850 COVID-19 doses. However, 12 to 15 crore Indians have not received a single dose of vaccine and 30 crore people have not received their second doses.

Speaking to NDTV, Dr N K Arora said that in light of these figures, the need of the hour in India was to push ahead with their vaccination which is the "most important and effected tool and completed on a priority basis".

He said that the country was mulling additional COVID-19 doses for immunocompromised people and that the policy on the same would be drawn up in 14 days' time.

"The policy will deal with who will require the vaccine, when and how. This needs to be seen in the context that a new variant is coming and with time only we will get to know more information about it. Therefore relevance and effectiveness of the current vaccines will also become apparent with time only," news agency ANI quoted Arora as saying on Monday.

He added that they were looking into how the existing vaccines in India, namely Covishield and Covaxin, would work against the Omicron variant.

"We are waiting for the next two weeks or so where labs across the country, some of which are our own labs are working on the effectiveness of the immune response elicited by our current vaccines, Covaxin, Covishield and other vaccines with the (new variant) of the virus and what extent of the virus neutralisation takes place," NDTV quoted him as saying.

The COVID-19 task force head also revealed that they were working on a policy to vaccinate the country's 44 crore children. According to him, priority would be given to those children suffering from co-morbidities, followed by healthy children.

What do Covishield makers have to say?

Adar Poonawalla, the chief of Serum Institute of India, said that Omicron-specific booster shots are possible.
He said tests were being carried out and a call on the matter would be taken in two weeks' time.

"Scientists at Oxford are also continuing their research, and based on their findings, we may come out with a new vaccine which would act as a booster in six months' time. Based on the research, we would know about the third and the fourth dose for us all," he told NDTV in an exclusive interview.

He also added that if a booster was needed, his firm would provide them at the same price.

Omicron spreads

Days after a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 was identified in southern Africa, countries around the world are confirming that they have found cases of it too.

As of 30 November, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden and Brazil had reported cases of the new variant.

New data has also thrown up questions on the origins of the variant. While it was believed that the first case was reported in South Africa, new data shows that the Omicron coronavirus variant was present in Europe way before.

The new variant — whose high number of mutations the WHO believes may make it more transmissible or resistant to vaccines — was found in two Dutch test samples from 19 and 23 November, with one having no travel history.

India has, so far, not reported a case of the Omicron variant with Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya telling Parliament on Tuesday that no such case had been reported so far, underlining that the government has taken measures to ensure that it does not reach the country.

The Centre has issued an advisory after looking at developments globally and is keeping a close watch on airports, he said, adding genome sequencing of suspected cases is being done.

With inputs from agencies

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